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School board candidates debate issues

Nye County School District Area 5 Trustee Pamela Lewis Hiler defended a decision to close Mount Charleston Elementary School, during a candidates’ night debate with her opponent Andy Alberti at the Pahrump Nugget Hotel and Casino on Oct. 7.

“Teachers have had more to do with less,” Hiler said. “Administrators have a minimum of two jobs and with all the obstacles that are beyond our control, i.e. money or shall I say lack thereof, we have persevered and we have made great things happen for your children, the children of Nye County.”

She mentioned the hiring of a new superintendent, the opening of a new elementary school, a new, state-of-the-art high school and information provided through social media.

“I have been here since 2002 and I’ve always been a believer in a good education,” Alberti said. “I happen to be very fortunate to have attended schools that afforded me that opportunity. My parents had the money to send me to private school when I was in high school and you had to take an entrance exam to go there.

Moderator Bill Carns asked about the decision to close the elementary school in 2011 and shortly after build a $26.3 million addition to Pahrump Valley High School.

“Mount Charleston was a very old school and needed a lot of repair,” Hiler said. “The monies for the new school was a bond that had been set aside and the money could only be used for that purpose.”

On budget matters, Alberti criticized a plan to spend $50,000 for a lobbyist while attending his first school board meeting in early 2013.

“What we should be doing is asking our legislators who represent us up in Carson City and our district principal to do that lobbying on behalf of us with the money that we pay them,” Alberti said. “The decision of all five board members was to allot the $50,000.”

Hiler agreed with Alberti, but said that lobbyist money was also required for a specific purpose.

Alberti criticized a rating of one star, the lowest in a five-star rating, for Amargosa Valley and Gabbs elementary schools in a recent State of Nevada report. Alberti said no schools in Nye County are above a three-star rating, unlike some five-star schools in Clark and Washoe County.

“I would like to go to one of those schools with the administration and take a look and see what they’re doing that we’re not to see if it fits our programs,” Alberti said.

Hiler said people have to look at why there’s only a one-star rating, it may be only not turning a document in time.

“Whenever you get a new textbook adoption your scores are going to drop because it’s a new textbook, it’s new training,” she said. “However part of what was the old Common Core once you reached that level of proficiency the bar got raised again.”

Hiler likes the idea of full-time kindergarten, stating it is “absolutely essential,” to develop with the new requirements of school.

“Kinder students are required to know so much more than they did at one time,” Hiler said. “Kinder students by the end of their kindergarten years are expected to be pretty much independent readers and they can’t accomplish those goals in just a two-and-a-half hour day which is what a half-day kinder is. Their math skills are expected to be single-digit addition and subtraction.”

Alberti recalled being in tears going to kindergarten the first day with his mother in Queens, N.Y.

“I’d prefer a half-day kindergarten and I think we can expect a lot more from students in kindergarten than we expect the way things are done now,” Alberti said. “Many students may come to kindergarten and already know how to write.”

Carns said Nevada’s governor was a major supporter of Common Core standards.

“Their objective is to create an environment for excellent education. The problem I have with Common Core is there are some things I think they have no business promoting in the school, so I have a little slogan when it comes to Common Core, accept the best, reject the rest. I can’t tell you right now what to reject,” Alberti said. “If we were doing an excellent job not only here but throughout the country they wouldn’t be coming up with a thing like Common Core. If they want to have an experiment in the United States do it in Washington D.C. and let’s see how well they do there.”

Hiler said Common Core has been in effect for four years. She said Nevada modified the federal law so it’s more of a growth model.

“Our kids are not measured against predetermined standards they’re measured against their own growth which is the way it should be. We should be accountable for growth in our students. When you send them to school you expect them to learn, you expect them to move forward,” Hiler said.

“Common core actually recommends some things in the curriculum you may not want your students, your kids taught,” Alberti said. “I’d much rather be teaching the students patriotism, about what the great things are about this country, about the true history of what happened in the Americas.”

“Common Core only addresses English and Math, it doesn’t address any other topic,” Hiler said. “The reason our governor created Common Core is when states compare themselves to each other you are really looking at apples to apples.”

When asked the biggest issue she faced as a school board member, Hiler said, “the most difficult situation would have been teacher layoffs. Due to budget constraints we were forced to lay teachers off and that was very, very difficult. It made class sizes larger. It was painful to have to do that to teachers. I’m a teacher and have been for over 10 years, I’m going on 20 years now. However what I am proud of is that in the new contracts we were able to bring them back and the concessions that were made we were able to restore them.”

Alberti countered, “I think when some of these contracts were written we’ve been giving away the store.”

Asked the biggest issue facing the school district, Alberti said, “my entire campaign everything ever is being the best damn school district in the state and I think we can do that. I don’t want to hear from a principal we can’t do it. I don’t want to hear we don’t have the money to accomplish that.”

Hiler said good things are happening in the school district. While people only hear the negative things, scores are low but they’re on the rise, there are new textbook adoptions and a new reading program coming in.

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